Jimmie Johnson finding plenty of French NASCAR fans in Le Mans

LE MANS, FRANCE - JUNE 06: Drivers Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Jordan Taylor of the #24 NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet ZL1 sign autographs prior to the 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe June 5, 2023 in Le Mans, France. on June 06, 2023 in Le Mans, France. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Even under a bright and hot mid-afternoon sun, the line of autograph seekers stretched from the Garage 56 pit stall, a good 40 yards away and then doubled up again; easily the most popular spot at the Le Mans circuit on Tuesday.

Dressed in No. 48 hats – a nod to Jimmie Johnson’s seven-championship NASCAR tenure in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet – and many wearing No. 24 t-shirts (a nod to Hendrick executive and former driver Jeff Gordon) it was a rowdy and enthusiastic group eager to meet their racing heroes.

Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button, Johnson and Jordan Taylor sat at the table smiling and signing – smiling and signing and so forth, for more than an hour, genuinely enjoying the interaction and appreciation.

The Walkenhorst Motorsport team drivers immediately to Garage 56 group, smiled and pointed to the autographed cards sitting on their table and noticeably smaller crowd of admirers.

“I think you should ask them [Garage 56 drivers], what it’s like sitting next to us,’’ Walkenhorst’s American driver Jeff Segal said with a laugh.

At one point French fan Vaelentin Vitu, 25, of Champagne, placed seven No. 48 diecast cars and a No. 48 helmet in front of Johnson for an autograph – getting the ultimate fan triple play of autographs, selfies and conversation with his longtime favorite driver. Johnson signed, posed and smiled – clearly moved by all the love he was receiving a continent away from home.

“I followed Jimmie since 2010,’’ Vitu said. “I always watch NASCAR and when I heard he will come to France for Le Mans, it was very special opportunity for me to see him in person. I don’t have the chance to come to the United States to see him in NASCAR so it was very special for him to come here.

“I was very nervous to meet him, but it was a special moment.”

Photos: NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans Tuesday June 6, 2023